There are many people who believe the Christian must keep the Sabbath. It is one of the Ten Commandments and many believe we are under command to keep all the Ten Commandments. Are they correct? What does the Bible say about the Sabbath? Who was to keep it – was it for all men and for all time? How was it to be kept? Let us see what the Bible has to say about the matter.
The first time one finds the word “Sabbath” in the Bible is in Exodus 16:23. The children of Israel had come out of Egypt but had not yet reached Mt. Sinai. The events that transpire in Exodus 16 occur in the second month of their journey (Exodus 16:1). This is the time when the children of Israel were grumbling against God (see Ex. 16:2-3, 7), complaining about food, and the time when God gave them manna to eat. They were given instructions from God through Moses about how to gather the manna, store it, and use it.
“This is what the Lord has said: ‘Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord. Bake what you will bake today, and boil what you will boil; and lay up for yourselves all that remains, to be kept until morning.'” (Ex. 16:23 NKJV) The next day comes, “Then Moses said, “Eat that today, for today is a Sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in the field. Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will be none.” (Ex. 16:25-26 NKJV) We read further, “See! For the Lord has given you the Sabbath; therefore He gives you on the sixth day bread for two days. Let every man remain in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day. So the people rested on the seventh day.” (Ex. 16:29-30 NKJV)
The Sabbath day was the seventh day of the week, our Saturday. “Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb.” (Matt. 28:1 NKJV) The first day of week began after the Sabbath thus the Sabbath was a Saturday.
What have we learned? We have learned the Sabbath was the seventh day of the week and not the first day. This means, of course, that if Christians are to keep the Sabbath they cannot keep it on a Sunday for a Sunday is not the Sabbath. It is unscriptural and an invention of man to try and make Sunday the Sabbath. It never was and it never can be. If we can make the Sabbath be the first day of the week now why could they not do so back then? Do you think God would have accepted Sunday as the Sabbath back in the days of Moses? To ask is to answer. They would have been in disobedience to God. But let us go on and learn more.
The Sabbath was a day of rest. “The people rested on the seventh day.” (Ex. 16:29 NKJV) But, it was not the first day of rest. In Gen. 2:2-3 we read, “And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.” (NKJV) Since God knows all things and knows the end from the beginning (“I am God, and there is none like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning” Isa. 46:9-10 NKJV) certainly he knew from day one that down the road he would be giving this Sabbath day commandment to the children of Israel but it needs to be pointed out a law is not in effect until it is given. It was not given to any as a law until at least Ex. 16:23 and given in more detail on Mt. Sinai, as pertains to rules and regulations, a very few weeks later. If given to any earlier it is not revealed in the scriptures.
At Mt. Sinai God incorporated the Sabbath day as a part of the Ten Commandments given to the children of Israel. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.” (Ex. 20:8-11 NKJV)
In Ex. 31:13-17, while still on Mt. Sinai with God before descending with the Ten Commandments in hand on two stone tablets, Moses hears more on the subject from the Lord. The Lord tells Moses, “Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the Lord who sanctifies you. You shall keep the Sabbath, therefore, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people. Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh is the Sabbath of rest, holy to the Lord. Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death. Therefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.'” (NKJV)
We now have all the information we need on the Sabbath to make the following observations as it relates to a Christian keeping the Sabbath day. One, it was not given to Christians as a commandment. It was given to the children of Israel, the fleshly descendants of Abraham, to them and their children and their descendants, to those who would live and die under the Law of Moses. Was the Law of Moses given to you and to me to obey and keep? If you say yes it makes you a Jew, not a Christian. A Christian lives under the law of Christ, not the Law of Moses. It was given to a chosen people, chosen by racial descent through Abraham.
In Deut. 5:1-3 Moses “called all Israel, and said to them: ‘Hear, O Israel…the Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, those who are here today, all of us who are alive.'” (NKJV) Horeb is a reference to Mt. Sinai. Moses says this covenant was not made with everyone for it excluded their fathers. It also excluded those who were not a part of Israel. It did not include the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Romans, etc. It was a covenant for a specific group of people and not all peoples. It was the covenant that included the commandment to keep the Sabbath day.
Furthermore, Moses elaborates on the Sabbath giving us further enlightenment. He says, “And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” (Deut. 5:15 NKJV) If you are a Gentile God did not bring your ancestors out of Egypt and that being the case the Sabbath law was never directed to you.
It is time to move to the New Testament. We find the Sabbath in the New Testament but we need to make some distinctions. First we must remember Jesus was a Jew “born under the law” (Gal. 4:4 NKJV) and he and his fellow Jews were under obligation to keep that law. Had Jesus not kept the law perfectly he could not have been our perfect sacrifice for sins. But, was it Jesus’ purpose in life to perpetuate that old law of Moses for perpetuity? Not at all.
In Col. 2:14 the following statement is made about Jesus, “He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” (NKJV) Did you ever wonder what it was that Jesus took out of the way on the cross? The text just above this passage gives us the answer. It says, “the handwriting of requirements that was against us.” (Col. 2:14 NKJV) What was that? It was the law of Moses including the Ten Commandments. Why was it against us? Read the text in context (see verse 13) and you will see Paul was speaking to Gentiles which the law of Moses did not pertain to. Gentiles were left out of the Law of Moses. In excluding us it left us without hope.
It is best said in Eph. 2:11-12, “Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh–who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands–that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” (NKJV)
Christ came into the world to make a new covenant, not just with and for the Jews alone, but for all mankind who were and are willing to go into a covenant relationship with him. Read the passages in the New Testament that pertains to Jesus instituting the Lord’s Supper. What does he say? “This is My blood of the new covenant.” (Matt. 26:28 NKJV, see also Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, and 1 Cor. 11:25) Paul speaks of being “ministers of the new covenant.” (2 Cor. 3:6 NKJV)
There is a lengthy discussion of this in Heb. 8 talking about the new covenant being a better covenant (Heb. 8:6) and how the old covenant was faulty (Heb. 8:7 – it could not cleanse man of his sin). The inspired writer concludes with this statement: “In that He says, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” (Heb. 8:13 NKJV) When men try and hold onto the Sabbath they are refusing to allow that part of the old covenant to “vanish away.”
“The law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.” (Gal. 3:24-25 NKJV) Remember the law is the Law of Moses and keeping the Sabbath was one of the Ten Commandments in that law. Paul says we are no longer under the tutor, the Law of Moses (and again the Gentiles never were). In Heb. 7:12 the writer there says the same thing, we are no longer under the law (even if you were/are a Jew). He says, “For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law.” (NKJV)
What God wanted to bring over from the Law of Moses and incorporate into the new law of Christ he did within the pages of the New Testament. If you cannot find the command there the reason is God did not want it there. The day to be observed today is “the Lord’s Day” (Rev. 1:10 NKJV), the day the Lord was resurrected arising from the grave, the day Christians observed from the beginning of Christianity, the first day of the week (Acts 20:7) and not the seventh day of the week.
I cannot go into it here other than to just mention it but yes Christians do have a Sabbath rest coming which the reader can read about in Heb. 4:1-11. That rest, however, is in heaven at the end of time. “There remains therefore a rest for the people of God.” (Heb. 4:9 NKJV)
I close with this thought. If one wants to argue we are to keep the Sabbath as Christians he must, if he is consistent, argue that we keep all of the law pertaining to the Sabbath. The Sabbath law included this, “Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death.” (Ex. 31:15 NKJV) How can you say you are keeping the Sabbath and yet refuse to obey all that is demanded of it which includes said punishment of those brethren who fail to keep it? “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” (Gal. 3:10 NKJV) Thus one cannot have part of the Sabbath law, part of the Law of Moses, and ignore the rest if that is where he is seeking his salvation. The Law of Moses, of which the Sabbath was a part, is over; it is gone; it is done.
“But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for ‘The just shall live by faith.’ Yet the law is not of faith, but ‘The man who does them shall live by them.’ Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law.” (Gal. 3:11-13 NKJV)